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Herbal Tea Blends - The different choices

Although it is most commonly referred to by the moniker “herbal tea blends”, the vast varieties of steeped herbal beverages that are enjoyed all over the world are not really teas at all.  In fact, tisanes (the more accurate term for herbal teas) don’t even come from the same plant as true teas.  Black, white, green, and oolong tea have the same source:  the camellia sinensis plant.  The distinctive appearance and taste of any type of true tea comes from how the leaves are prepared once they are harvested.  Altering the amount of time camellia sinensis leaves are given to dry and oxidize determines the style of tea that will result; the more time tea leaves spend in the curing process, the stronger and bolder they will be. 

While tisanes packaged, sold, and prepared in the same way as true teas, their origins could not be more different.  True teas are made exclusively from the leaves of the camellia sinensis plant.  Tisanes can have a variety of sources; the most common sources are the South American yerba mate plant, the South African rooibos bush, and any number of herb plants native to all parts of the world.  They can be made by drying different parts of the plants from which they come.  Tisanes are typically categorized by the part of the plant that is used to make them.  Many tea drinkers would be surprised to learn that a large number of the most common “teas” on the market today are actually tisanes:  mint and lemongrass (leaf tisanes), chamomile and lavender (flower tisanes), peach, raspberry and apple (fruit tisanes), ginger and Echinacea (root tisanes), cinnamon and black cherry (bark tisanes), and fennel and cardamom (seed or spice tisanes).  Unlike camellia sinensis, the plant sources of tisanes are used for much more than their leaves.  Because they come from such a wide range of plants and plant parts, tisanes offer many more options in flavor than true teas.  The wide variety of tisane flavors is often used to create flavored tea blends; true teas are mixed with tisanes to create varieties such as Chai.

Tisanes of all kinds have been steeped for centuries.  The ancient civilizations in Egypt and China left behind documented uses of tisanes for medicinal purposes as well as their general consumption for enjoyment.  Either in pure form or blended from various plant sources, tisanes were thought to have had a wealth of healthy properties that could ease anxiety and help to restore health.  Tisanes continue to be popular for both their delicious flavors and health benefits today.  They are naturally caffeine free (even decaffeinated true teas still contain trace amounts of caffeine), rich in antioxidants and vitamins, and are available in a broad array of flavors and blends.  No matter what your taste preferences are, you’re sure to find at least a few tisanes that satisfy your palate.  Tisane varieties are just as readily available, easy to prepare, and maybe for some even more tasty than true teas.

The History of Ceylon Tea

As you might know, ‘Ceylon’ is the former name of Sri Lanka, a large island country off the coast of India in the Indian Ocean. But what’s the story behind Ceylon tea?  Some of ESP Emporium’s most popular black tea blends come from Ceylon. Today, we’re going to tell you everything you need to know about Ceylon black tea.

Ceylon’s tea industry is an important part of its economy. In fact, it’s the country’s largest employer. In total, Sri Lanka’s tea industry employs approximately 1 million people, making Sri Lanka the 3rd largest tea producing country on the planet.

Sri Lanka was once a British colony. Contrary to what you might believe, the first major crop in Sri Lanka was coffee, not tea. However, after the island’s coffee plantations caught a serious disease in the 1860s, Ceylon’s residents were left looking for another productive crop.

Tea swiftly replaced coffee as the island’s number one crop. Ceylon’s residents experimented with tea growing methods, cultivation techniques, and leaf manipulation in order to maximize the country’s output. Ceylon’s tea growing efforts were particularly aided by the efforts of a Scotsman by the name of James Taylor. He called Ceylon the “Pearl” of the Indian Ocean and recognized the island’s natural affinity for growing tea.

Because of the efforts of Taylor and other tea enthusiasts, Ceylon tea was soon being prized around the world. International demand grew rapidly over the years, and tea quickly turned into Ceylon’s most profitable plantation crop.

Sri Lanka’s tea estates

Ultimately, Ceylon’s booming tea industry led to the creation of a number of important tea estates in the central part of the country. During the British period, these tea estates were ruled over by a group of landlords called English Tea Barons, and as a result, many of the estates feature colonial Tudor styling and design.

Today, those tea estates provide valuable foreign exchange revenue and offer a reliable source of employment for approximately one million Tamils. The tea estates are located in both highland and lowland areas and offer a picturesque view of the surrounding countryside. Visitors to the country often visit Sri Lanka’s famous tea estates, and the estates continue to be the country’s most important source of revenue.

Sri Lanka tea benefits

Ceylon tea is rumored to have a number of powerful benefits. Namely, Ceylon black tea is rich in antioxidants and polyphenols. Like many East Asian teas, Ceylon tea is derived from the camellia sinensis plant, which has been linked to everything from healthy healths to weight loss. Because of all these benefits, Ceylon tea is valued around the world.

Conclusion

Ultimately, Ceylon tea is known throughout the world for its top-quality aroma, flavor, and health benefits. The country has a rich history in tea production that continues to be prominent to this day. Whether you’re visiting Sri Lanka or just drinking Ceylon tea, every sip you take is one steeped in history.

Brewing The Perfect Cup Of Loose Tea, Part 2: The Brew

A visit to your tea shop will probably lead you to a very reasonable question:  what do I need to brew my loose leaf tea at home?  Tea vendors generally cater to all kinds of customers, from the novice brewer to the veteran tea enthusiast.  If you’re overwhelmed by the array of tea pots, kettles, tea service sets, and mysterious gadgets out there, know this:  you don’t need all, or even half, of that stuff.  With a few (wonderfully inexpensive) tools, you’ll be able to get the most flavor and enjoyment out of your loose leaf tea. 

One of the most important tools, a decent kettle, probably already lives in your kitchen.  Yes, decent:  not top-of-the-line, not fancy, not high-tech, just decent.  If you can fill it with water, put it on the stove, and pour hot water out of it safely, it’s sufficient.  An electric kettle works just fine, too (in fact, you might find the temperature control on an electric kettle to be very useful).  The only other really necessary tool is a tea infuser; these can be purchased for less than $10.  Popular models include a mesh spoon that rests on the rim of your cup, or a mesh ball (or fun shape like an animal) on a chain that hangs in your cup.  Any model, whether you spend a few dollars or a lot more, does the same thing – it allows the tea leaves to float in the hot water, steeping and releasing their color, flavor, and aroma into your cup. 

Yes, a kettle and an infuser are all you need to make a fantastic cup of tea.  You don’t need the kettle with the built-in infuser, or the decorative pot, or the collection of bamboo tea tools.  And unless you’re hosting High Tea, you don’t need the pretty pot with the matching cups and saucers, either.

Now that you have your kettle and infuser, you’re ready to brew.  Start with cold, filtered (if possible) water in your kettle.  For the best flavor, you don’t want to actually boil the water; ideal temperatures are somewhere between 149° F and 210° F.  Generally, the darker the tea, the hotter the water should be.  Most kettles whistle when the water in them is boiling, so listen for hissing and remove it from the heat before you hear the whistle.  While the water heats, prep your favorite cup; add about one teaspoon of tea to your infuser, and set the infuser in the cup.  When the water reaches temperature, pour it gently over the infuser and let it sit for about 1-3 minutes, depending on the tea (generally, the darker the tea, the longer the steep).  For stronger tea, start with more tea leaves, but don’t mess with the steeping time; increasing the steeping time will make your tea bitter, not stronger.  Finally, remove the infuser and enjoy your soothing cup of perfectly brewed tea.  Yes, it really is that easy!

Brewing The Perfect Cup Of Loose Leaf Tea, Part 1: The Tea

So you’ve decided to make the switch from bagged to loose leaf tea.  Great!  Now what?  With so many options, becoming a loose tea aficionado may seem intimidating.  Don’t worry – with a little know-how and a few good tools, you’ll be brewing and enjoying your loose leaf tea in no time.

The first step is finding the tea leaves to brew.  You may have noticed that they’re not as prevalent as packages of pre-bagged teas, but you’ll be surprised how easily you can get your hands on loose tea leaves if you look for them.  You can start with a look around your area for an independent tea shop.  Finding a local shop is great because you’ll be able to get information, guidance, and brewing tips from the owner.  You’ll also be supporting a local business and contributing to your local economy.  If you can’t find an independent tea shop in your area, make a trip to the nearest shopping mall.  As the popularity of whole, less-processed foods has grown, so has the demand for loose tea.  Tea shops are popping up in malls all over the country.  If your mall doesn’t have a tea shop (yet), and you can’t find an independent shop in your area, there’s one easy and convenient option – the Internet.  A quick search will reveal countless suppliers, across the country and the globe, offering countless varieties for you to try. 

Once you’ve found your tea supplier, your next step will be picking out the type of tea you want to try.  Most teas come from the same plant, and are categorized by the processing (usually a combination of wilting or steaming and oxidization) needed to arrive at the finished product.  White teas are the least processed and the lightest in color and flavor.  Black teas, the traditional alternative to morning coffee, are darker, bolder, and have higher amounts of caffeine than other teas.  Green teas have a pleasant, light but distinctive flavor that pairs well with many fruit flavors.  Oolong teas, which you’ve probably had if you’ve ever ordered tea in a Chinese restaurant, have a bold and unique flavor and are known for their weight-loss properties.  Unlike conventional teas, herbal, rooibos, and maté varieties are made from a combination of dried herbs, fruits, and flowers.  These blends come from plants around the world and have flavors as diverse as their origins.  Their light, fruity flavors (and the fact that they’re caffeine-free) attract many tea enthusiasts to the herbal family.

Loose teas give you the freedom of buying small quantities.  You can sample many types and varieties, without committing to a whole box of a tea you might not prefer.  Most tea shops have samples brewed; many are even happy to brew up a special taste of something you’re curious to try.  Ask your tea vendor how to store your favorite tea to best preserve its flavor (usually an airtight container), and you’ll be ready to brew!

Loose Leaf Tea: From The Plant To Your Cup

When you’re enjoying a cup of your favorite loose leaf tea, you’re probably giving little thought to the process those leaves went through on their way from nature to your kitchen.  The journey of your loose leaf tea, from plant to brew, takes several years and a lot of work.  The family of plants used for tea, Camellia sinensis, grows mainly in tropical and sub-tropical regions, where it can be cultivated either by seed or by cutting.  Unlike the plants or flowers in your garden, it takes years for a new tea plant to bear seed, and at least 3 years before that same plant is ready for harvesting.  Once a plant is mature enough to harvest, workers pick the flushes (the leaves from the top 1-2 inches of the plant).  Because loose leaf tea is comprised of the premium quality tea leaves, hand-picking is the only way to ensure that the quality of the leaves isn’t compromised during the harvest. 

Once the leaves are painstakingly harvested and the best of the harvest are selected, the processing begins.  Because most teas (with the exception of herbals) come from the same plant, the processing is largely responsible for determining which variety the tea will become.  For all tea varieties, the process begins the same way; leaves are laid out, often in the sun, for wilting (also called withering).  This important first step allows for the leaves to dry out a bit, concentrating and strengthening their essential oils and flavor.  If the leaves are to become white tea, the process ends here; white tea leaves are then dried, rolled, packaged and ready for shipping.  For other varieties, there is still much work to be done.  The leaves begin the next step, fermentation (or oxidation); the reaction of the leaves when they are spread out and exposed to oxygen allows the leaves to brown.  It is this step in which the leaves will adopt the unique color and flavor familiar to tea drinkers around the world.  Different varieties of tea require different lengths of oxidation; leaves that will become black tea are left to oxidize the longest before moving on to the next step.

Because the length of oxidation is so important in determining the final variety of the tea, oxidized leaves are then heated and dried to stop the oxidation process.  Green tea, which requires no oxidation, skips that step and goes straight from wilting to heating and drying.  Finally, dried leaves are graded; only the finest, most perfect large leaves will go on to become loose leaf tea.  Leaves that have been broken or don’t meet the strict standards of loose leaf tea will be sent for grinding and packaging as bagged tea. 

Throughout the years-long process, tea leaves are meticulously supervised to ensure proper color and flavor.  From the plant to your cup, you can be sure that your loose leaf tea has been carefully cultivated and diligently monitored so you know you’re enjoying only the highest quality loose leaf tea brew.